542. Trivial Passages

Image result for trivia bar contests picturesWe finally did it! Our Wednesday night trivia team persevered through the twists and turns of  trivial competition and wound up winning the final question about airport abbreviations to finish with 45 points, just one thin point ahead of our closest competitors, the hated Flying Squirrels. They are a bunch of teachers, I think, with broad coverage of many subjects. They usually win, but not last night. No way, baby. We, the Snarky Sharkies, prevailed. For one glorious moment we are masters of useless information. The thrill was ephemeral, though, as if we had won the bubble blowing tournament for Bazooka Bubble Gum with a 14 inch pink bubble of hot exhalations. Yes, and then it was over. Pop!Image result for nerds celebrating gif

“We’re not going to Disney World. We’re not going to Hollywood either.  We’re just going home!!! ”

Not sure why it’s briefly exciting to win a competition about things that have little meaning or application in real life.  Well, no, the brief satisfaction is like killing flies in your kitchen in July. The annoying buzz and blur ends. Silence reigns again. Nonetheless, I find it fascinating how we arrive at answers via associations with emotions or parallel memories.Image result for neural pathway gifs

For instance, one question went something like this:  a shiny fish; also a process of extracting (metal) from its ore by a process involving heating and melting. Well, I did my mental scan, which lead me to the old white Frigidaire refrigerator in my parents’ narrow kitchen that I wallpapered in vinyl blue and white floral paper with one ugly blue wall behind that helpless fridge, forced to accept the desperate decor of that kitchen. Inside the meat drawer in a plastic wrapped Styrofoam tray I could see little shiny fish my father used to eat on rye bread with horseradish. What were they called?  Not sardines, though he also ate those. They came in a flat square can with a key that unrolled the top. Not anchovies, or fish bacon as I recall them; he ate those on pizza. Ummm. What were they called? From the ether that separates time and space, it came to me: Smelts. That’s it.Image result for smelts pictures

I used to feed them to my black cat Stanley. He was a stray with a white chest badge and white body hair where men have hair. I persuaded him to follow me home from the playground one day. He was a muscular brute who a few years later was hit by a car on The Parkway during the winter. I remember the season because the ground was hard and I could not get all of Stanley buried behind the rose of Sharon bushes at the back of our yard. Suffice it to say that Stanley waved one frozen paw at our kitchen window till spring. Eventually nature lowered his salute into worm food. Image result for partially buried cat pictures

Trippy stuff. The mind is a powerful engine with limitless powers, so it seems. Question 10 of Round 1 had to do with television: her career was launched in the 1990’s though the show she starred in, My So Called Life, lasted only one season. I could instantly envision my oldest daughter watching this t. v. girl struggle with growing up in the 1990’s. Our television screen was maybe 19 inches and sat upon an end table at the intersection of two identical pink and blue brocaded couches we special ordered from North Carolina and have since gotten rid of. Erin would lie on her stomach and stare from 32 inches away at Angela Chase, a 15 year old girl in Pittsburgh. It was compelling drama. Across the void of 25 years her name came to me, Claire Danes. How?  I have no real idea except I loved my daughter and she loved Claire Danes a long time ago. I whispered my answer to my new son-in-law Zach. He was stuck on two female leads from movies made in the 1990’s, certain that the answer was one or the other. “Okay”, I said, “but neither of those is right”. 

“It’s either Jennifer Love Hewitt or that other girl…Melissa Joan Hart. But which one?”

“Neither.”Image result for claire danes pictures

I was overridden but not swayed. When Claire Danes came up as the official answer, I was just feeling the warm pulse of my daughter’s memory flow across my heart.Image result for awkward 15 year old girl pictures

What else? you ask. On 13 May 1897, this Italian inventor sent the world’s first ever wireless communication over open sea across the English Channel. Well, the only Italian inventor I could imagine who fit the time frame and the task was Marconi, but I first thought “macaroni”, which is also Italian. As the names came rolling in, I was amazed at their futility– Da Vinci, Tesla (not even Italian), Gucci, Alexander Graham Bell (also not Italian) and Samuel Morse (a.n.I.). I began to hope that the curse of stupidity had landed on another table. ‘Drink strong beer’ was the message I tried to send out telepathically, sort of like Marconi without any wires or cables.Related image

I don’t know if anyone else in the bar picked up my signals, but I cannot be sure that they didn’t. After all, I was elected president, I mean, we won the electoral college of triviality. And Crooked Squirrely lost. So I must have a high I.Q. and be, like really smart. Right? In fact, over the half time interim, I walked outside to save a cat from a storm drain. No one witnessed my bravery, but that’s okay. Fake news outlets would only pillory my heroism. Which leads right in to the “dilly dilly” question that everyone got right. What White House employee just had his secret clearance downgraded? The correct answer as you know was/is Jared Kushner. Talk about awkward. Image result for jared kushner photos

But I have a thought: what if all the recent expatriates from the White House got together and formed a trivia team?  Hope, Jared, Mike, Moochi, Spicey, Flynn, Omarosa, Bannon, Price, Priebus, oh crap! There’s a limit of eight per team. Maybe they could sub out every other week. What else do they have to do but testify?


311. Scotch

Long, long ago, 42 years to be exact, I traveled through England and Scotland by train, taxi and bus, losing articles of clothing and my high school ring along the way. It’s not hard to lose things unless it’s a misbehaving two year old that you’d like to drop off at the mall, but then everyone jumps up and says, “Hey, you can’t leave that kid here.” Anyway, on the train ride north from London I recall a 15 year old jockey who looked 12 offered to buy me a pint of Guiness. Yes, he was legal age to do so. He drained his and I gargled and gagged on what tasted like a coal miner’s tobacco juice spit. The kid won by six furlongs, roughly 1,320 yards.

I rolled into Edinboro, Scotland a couple of days before New Year’s Eve of 1974, i.e. it was still 1973 and I was still 17. I toured the city and the castle up on a prominent hill and wandered up above the Firth of Forth past wild heather. It was a harsh beauty that far north, but softer than what I was told existed way up in true Scotland, where true Scotsmen wear kilts. The accents grew more primal along the latitudes also.  I bought a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker hat and matching scarf in Cooper Tartan (to fit in) and wore them with my old bomber jacket, bush jeans and blue suede sneakers. It was a memorable look that still makes fashionistas wretch. I think I stuck out like a butt blister Yank.

 As luck would have it, I met three Australian guys at the youth hostel. We got along immediately. Two of the guys were on their tour of Europe before returning home to university. The third was their old mate, Rob Campbell, whose family had moved to London several years back. Nice girthy guys with meat on their bones. It felt comfortable to have new mates. And so, as New Year’s Eve approached, we decided to celebrate our good fortunes with large quantities of scotch whiskey. Off we went on Princes Street acting like we knew something, like we were princes of a sort.

So many liquor stores to choose from and so little time. We walked into one that seemed affordable and asked for scotch. The proprietor smirked, “Which one, me Buccos, we’ve got over two hundred types. You want single malt or a blend?”

“Uh, (trying hard not to look as stupid as we were) how about the one with the pirate on the bottle?”

“Ummm hmmm. That’s rot gut but cheap, one pound twenty.”

“We’ll each have a bottle then. Cheap is what we’re looking for. And pirates.”

“Aye, matey. Here ye be.”

We walked along and took piratey swigs from our bottles, pretending it tasted good when it actually tasted like smoked ammonia from an old rubber hose. When we got back to the hostel, many of the guests were gathered in the expansive basement kitchen, including an old, very drunk, white bearded Scotsman in full kilt regalia.

 He was from the north of Scotland and nearly unintelligible with his brogue over a quart of scotch in his belly. He hiccupped, staggered and swore aggressively. He was down to maybe six active brain cells, which were jumping off of him like fleas on a drowning basset hound. We called him Scottie and he answered our probes.

Of course one of the Aussies asked if he wore anything under his kilt. The old man made a mean face and squinted at us, and then peed on the floor.  He slurred, “What do you think, mate?”

We howled with laughter and made sure to avoid Scottie, the mean drunk from Glasssszzzzzgoooowwww. He was going to be very sick in the new year, and stinky damp. Off we went to find rare adventures on Princes Street. And I ‘m sure we had some fun times, none of which I can recall. I remember vaguely meeting some girls and going to a club or pub or something…. I became separated from the group, although I might have simply fallen asleep while they moved on. In any event I was many furlongs behind my new friends and very lost in Scotland. (I remembered being in the same predicament once back home on a summer’s evening. I crawled into a dry storm drain and slept on a bed of dry grass and leaves, maybe a snake too. I believe I survived. ) So I decided to bunker down for the night in a dark doorway, which I did for a few hours. Eventually a foot patrol cop woke me up and directed me elsewhere, just like that line in the Who’s song, “Who are you?”

I woke up in a Soho doorway
A policeman knew my name
He said “You can go sleep at home tonight
If you can get up and walk away”

I staggered back to the underground
And the breeze blew back my hair
I remember throwin’ punches around
And preachin’ from my chair

Well, it wasn’t like that. I simply started looking for landmarks and trying to regain cognition. I turned the focus key but nothing happened in my brain. I staggered around Edinboro on New Year’s Day like it was a ship tossed at sea. “Oh it’s a pirate’s life for me.” Like most bad ideas that later turn into good stories, this one finally ended.  I rode the train back to London and stayed with Rob for the rest of the week. We had a romping good time doing things I still cannot publicize until my deathbed confession. I don’t believe I’ve had any scotch fur many long furlongs since then, Mates. No regrets.